A Weekend in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Fancy a weekend of fresh air, open spaces, glorious views, rolling countryside and peace and quiet? Then I have just the place for you. The weekend before last  – you know the glorious hot one  – me and a couple of girlfriends – headed to the Brecon Beacons in Wales,  an area of outstanding beauty. Not sure that’s the official line but it definitely warrants that accolade. It was a very stress free journey from London Paddington to Newport, a quick change of trains and then a further 30 minutes or so onto Abergavenny – a charming station, which really makes you feel as if you have gone back in time.

Greeted by one of my friends in her car (she had driven from the Cotswolds) we whizzed a further 45 minutes to the picturesque Brecon Beacons National Park where we would be staying for two nights in Fan Cottage (sleeps 6), which is part of the Cnewr Estate. If you are with a larger party you can book out the Farmhouse (sleeps 16). You can book them for the week or the weekend. Fan cottage is the little white cottage that you can see in the photo above.

Both properties have been tastefully refurbished in 2017. The beds are super comfortable (that’s mine above) with puffy pillows and duvets, the bathrooms have excellent power showers (one had a bath and shower), there is a snug and sitting room and a good sized, well equipped kitchen with stylish crockery. I was also really impressed by the quality of the curtains – random I know – but seriously people they were so beautifully made. Also the place is really well heated – we had to turn off some of the radiators the weekend we visited as the weather was a scorcher. We couldn’t resist putting on the log burner one evening though to add to the atmosphere of the cottage – so warm and inviting.

Both cottage and farmhouse afford incredible vistas of the Cray Reservoir (no swimming as it’s super dangerous), but fun to admire and walk around at leisure. The dam was pretty spectacular, although am I the only one who imagines it breaking when waking this side of it? Now the sunsets from the cottage were just divine.

It did not take us long to feel relaxed and rejuvenated. One day we went and ate lunch at The Felin Fach Griffin which is about 10 minutes on from the town of Brecon. I had met the owner – Charles and his family – last year at the Ballymaloe Food and Drink Festival in Ireland and he had spoken about his three Inns – two in Cornwall and one in Wales.

The food and service were excellent and I would return in a heartbeat. The place is rustic and low key, the perfect place to nestle in for the afternoon around the fire with the papers or in our case on the grass outside. The food was full of flavour, original, but not too left field, and platted in a way that makes you want to actually dive in. The faro risotto was the tastiest I’ve eaten – just check out the colours on the plate.

Whilst we didn’t even see even half of the Brecon Beacons we did climb the highest peak in South Wales – Pen Y Fan – 886 metres about sea level and Corn Du just next to it, which enabled us to see for miles around.

The round trip, interspersed with lots of chatter and going at a slow and steady pace, is about 3 hours. We did pass a few people running up and down it – but each for their own hey!

We rewarded ourselves with lunch at the beautiful fishing hotel of Gliffaes, which is perched above River Usk. My cauliflower and roasted garlic soup definitely hit the spot after my hike.

The place is enchanting and feels as if it’s from another era, where time has literally stood still. Imagine grandfather clocks, roaring fires, tea in the drawing room, butler service (not quite, but almost) then you get the picture. The grounds and position are beautiful and great to wander around after a bite to eat and before catching the train back to the big smoke refreshed and rejuvenated after a wonderful weekend in Wales.

 

 

To Book:

Fan Cottage or the Farmhouse on the Cnewr Estate – click here

Felin Fach Griffin – click here

Gliffaes  – click here 

 

 

 

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Mini-Break at ‘The Old Rectory On the Lake’, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Ever fancy escaping the big smoke for a mini-break to endless hills, green pastures and killer views? Staying in a B&B, that even caters spectacularly for supper on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (and Thursday if you ask nicely), that is nestled on the edge of a picturesque lake and where the sound of sheep, birds and perhaps the odd otter diving into said lake, is the only noise you will hear for miles around. If peace, fresh air and stretching your legs is what you are after, I have just the place for you.

Nestled in the southern part of  Snowdonia National Park, in Wales, is The Old Rectory on the Lake (the lake in question is Tal-y-Llyn) owned by the jovial raconteur John and his talented chef partner Ricky, who together work as a dynamic duo making sure guests are well fed and watered at the start and the end of each day.

John is on hand to help guests get the most out of their stay with helpful suggestions on which walks to go on, depending on the weather on that day, or other places of interest in the vicinity. Having owned The Old Rectory for the past 12 years he is very well tapped into the local knowledge of the area.

Waking up to this view every morning is pretty special don’t you think?

 

For those who prefer a gently amble to a demanding hike, walking around the lake will take about an hour and there is lots to see. The weather changes so rapidly in this area that in a single day you can go through cloud, rain, wind and sun. As long as you come dressed prepared for the elements then there really is nothing to worry about.

In the space of a short time the weather went from this

 

…to this sunset across the lake. Pretty stunning.

 

Just behind the B&B is Cader Idris – the second most popular mountain in Wales after Snowdon. Those who have climbed both claim that Idris is more challenging. You can climb it directly from the hotel, but instead we opted for the easier route via the ‘pony path’, so drove around a few peaks to the town of Dolgellau, where we left our car in a small car park at the base of the hike.

The hike is demanding at times, but we went at a gentle pace – our youngest is only 7 yrs old. Once we had reached the ridge by the very top the wind had come from nowhere, which prevented me and my daughters from clambering up the final 5 mins, for fear of being blown off the mountain – literally.  Mr B – my husband – quickly managed to nip up and take the obligatory photo from the top.

Anyway it felt like a huge achievement – 4h 30 mins walk – 6 miles. Back at The Old Rectory we relaxed in the hot tub to rest our weary limbs, drank tea and readied ourselves for supper.

 

 

(view from Precipice walk, which we did on another day – definitely worth walking this one too)

Each evening we were treated to a three course affair that had been cooked by Ricky, who clearly has huge passion and flair for cooking. It’s not often that you stay at a B&B and be treated to restaurant quality food – think Welsh lamb, confit leg of duck, seabass, beef and the most warming and flavoursome soups for starters (amongst other equally tempting sounding starters). Desserts were wide ranging: from mango creme brûlée, lemon tart, pancakes with fruits, chocolate fondants, to name a few. After a good days hike we felt we deserved such a feast! Breakfast also set  you up for the day with everything from a full English to smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, to eggs Benedict, as well as a plethora of fresh fruits, yoghurts and cereals.

It’s funny how quickly you relax into another routine and I think staying in The Old Rectory helped us do just that. From climbing peaks, to exploring old abandoned castles, visiting chapels, riding a steam train to the coast, walking stretches of wide sandy beaches and relaxing for a light lunch in Aberdyfi overlooking the sea.

Three days away and we felt we had been away for so much longer. It’s a four hour drive from London, although on the way back we drove cross country, stopping off at Hay-on-Wye for a browse around the bookshops

 

and the castle

before grabbing a bite to eat at Tomatitos tapas restaurant then making our way back to the bright lights of London town.

 

For rates and to book The Old Rectory On The Lake – press here. John and Ricky will delighted to meet you.

Please mention my blog if you make a booking.

 

chilliandmint paid full price when staying at The Old Rectory on The Lake. The views are my own and no discount was received to write this blog post!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Foraging for Cockles on the Welsh Coast

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There is something very rewarding about foraging for your own food, it’s like a treasure hunt for grown ups. I am no expert forager mind you and I would draw the line at foraging for mushrooms. I did a post a few years ago on foraging for samphire which you can read here.

This past week, however, I have been in a corner of Wales that even the locals requested I keep secret for fear that their corner of paradise will be overwhelmed by zealous visitors. The beaches are HUGE – think California expansive – stretching over a couple of miles long. This gives the treasure seeker a wonderful opportunity to forage for tasty goodies.

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We opted for cockles this time, but when I return to Wales I will also try for razor clams as the locals say they are also great to search for when there is a spring tide. Cockles are basically like small clams and you may have had them in southern Spain where they are referred to as ‘coquinas’. They also sell them in seaside towns in Britain, cold in little pots without their shells. That never particularly appealed, but hot with loads of garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest and spaghetti certainly does.

The day we foraged was a little drizzly (the rest of the week was completely sunny, unlike the rain clouds over London I hear). The tide was a long way out and we searched between the shoreline and the sea. We looked for clues – cockle shells laying scattered on the beach surface and then would dig a hole about 1-2 inches deep and then feel around with our hands. Once you have found a couple you can normally find a whole group of around 10 or so. My daughters and I (Mr B had decided to take himself off for a walk along the 2.5 mile beach instead) lucked out and found over 250 in under an hour and a half. Result.

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We placed them in a pot (bucket is ideal) which we had filled with sea water. Overjoyed with our foraging success we went back to the cottage and let the cockles remain in the sea water overnight to get rid off the grit and sand.

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The following day we then cleaned each cockle and placed them in a bowl of salted water (below). At this point they are still alive and do stretch their limbs beyond the shell from time to time (you can see this happening in fact in the photo above). When you take them out of the water, gently knock the shell and they should close tight shut. If they do not then discard them. We found that there were only 10 or so that were a bit suspect, the remaining 250 were ready for our feast.

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This amount could  easily feed 6 people. We kind of over foraged but seeing as we had cooked them we decided it would be a shame to waste any so ate the lot between the four of us. Piggie I know! Both my daughters (6 and 9) adored them. I am a big believer that if you make a scene about shellfish or any particular kind of food in fact, then your children will too and not want to eat them. If you show them how delicious they are and get stuck in then invariably they will too and not want to be left out.

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We feasted royally and before you ask, we all felt on top form the next day. They are great fun to forage for so have a go when you are next on the British coast.

Cockles with Garlic, Lemon, Parsley and Spaghetti

Serves 4-6 easily

250 cockles (I did not weigh them but guess it is around 1-1.2kg)

1 tbsp butter

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 garlic, finely chopped

1 lemon, juice and zest

160ml white wine

2 large handfuls of flat leaf parsley

400g spaghetti

black pepper

  1. Leave the foraged (or not) cockles overnight in salted water – ideally sea water, to allow the sand and grit to be dispelled.
  2. Scrub them clean in the grooves of the shell under running cold water. Make sure they shut firmly. Place in a clean bowl of water with 1 tsp of salt.
  3. Place the spaghetti in a pan of boiling water and simmer for around 10 minutes, then leave in the boiling water until ready to add to the cockle pan (no9)
  4. Heat a large deep pan with the butter and olive oil and when it is hot add the garlic. Keep on a medium low heat.
  5. Once the garlic softens after a couple of minutes, add the lemon zest and stir.
  6. Turn the heat up high and add the cockles. Add the lemon juice, white white and then place the lid on the pan. Shake the pan gently from side to side.
  7. After a minute check to see if some of the shells are opening. Keep the pan moving with the lid on.
  8. After another minute the shells should be open.
  9. Add the spaghetti and the parsley and mix all the ingredients together for 30 seconds before plating up and adding a little black pepper.

Any shells that have not opened then discard – do not try to prize open.